Saturday, February 11, 2012

.hack//Sign: In which I argue with a disembodied voice

.hack recap: Tsukasa woke up in pain and with memory loss within a videogame known as The World. He he has spent most of his time avoiding human contact, and he is unable to log out. It has been suggested to him that he should turn off his computer which would have the effect of logging him out. The Crimson Knights tried to talk to Tsukasa about a character who looks like a cat, but he ran away. Their leader Subaru is concerned that something is going wrong with The World.

(I recommend actually buying .hack//Sign since my words don't really do it justice.  One can get either the DVD this episode is on, or the full series as a set.)

.hack//Sign, Episode 1: 15:06 to end

Lady Subaru and Silver Knight go to talk to a user who has recently had some data damaged. I've just realized that every time I previously saw this scene I misinterpreted where the characters were standing, which throws a serious wrench in the tangent I planned to embrace, but that's not important right now.

What is important is that the user they're talking to is sure that the damage was caused by an item his friend got from a suspicious character. That character being the cat Tsukasa was seen with. Tsukasa was the only lead the knights had on said cat, so now they have another reason to try to track him down. They don't even know whether the cat is male or female. (Everything I read says female, I don't remember it being specifically addressed, though. Possibly the indications were lost in translation.)

Then we return to Tsukasa, he's returning to the place where he first woke up, and going over his situation in his head. He's not in front of a computer terminal, which means he can't reset the computer terminal. Thus that will not log him out. It also brings of the question of where the Hell he is. It's a question he can't answer.

It's not an easy question even if you've seen the series because it requires you to ponder metaphysics for a moment. Tsukasa is not in his body anymore, he's in the game, but he's not in the game as programmed because he's able to experience things that have never been programmed (like pain) so he's more in the ideal of the game, the imaginary world that the game is supposed to be simulating. The idea of The World in a form that is tangible to him.

Like I said, metaphysics. As to where his body is, we'll get to that by the end of the post.

Anyway, he remembers that he opened the treasure chest at the end of the dungeon, and that afterward something painful happened, and as he tries to figure out what that is, who should appear but an anthropomorphic cat in a pointy hat.

Tsukasa remembers the cat's name, “Macha,” and tries to run up to the cat and ask it what to do. The cat disappears (after licking the treasure chest, which is just weird.) Tsukasa opens the chest, a stone tablet appears, Tsukasa touches it, and we meet one of the most important characters in the series.

The air tablet glow yellow, and a disembodied female voice says:

I've been waiting for you for such a long time. I need you just as you need me. Let us walk together. As long as we walk together, I shall protect you.

Everybody say, “Hi,” to disembodied voice lady (DVL).*

I have some points of disagreement with DVL here. First, she hasn't been waiting, she's been scheming and plotting and conniving and the truth is that this is at least plan B so she's actually been trying other things before settling on this course of action.

Second, she might need him, though that's because she chose him, but he really doesn't need her. He needs a lot of things, she is not one of them. Third, that whole, “I will protect you,” think is almost certainly a lie. The only way it might not be is because I'm not sure how one walks with a disembodied voice in the first place. So maybe she can claim that that one wasn't a lie because she wasn't actually walking with him when that protection abruptly ended.

Regardless, the light, the voice, and the stone tablet all disappear leaving Tsukasa to ponder what he jus heard.

Tsukasa starts to walk out, but discovers the exit blocked by Silver Knight. He has a moment of fear, then pulls out his teleportation flute (sprite ocarina) only to be informed that Sliver Knight has planned ahead and set up a barrier to prevent that from working.

Tsuksas runs like Hell and the first fight scene has begun. The first thing to notice is how the different their power levels are, even with a significant head start the running Tsukasa is overtaken by Silver Knight in a single leap. When it gets into swinging swords and staffs, Tsukasa is just as fast (which is why he isn't sliced up, he can block and dodge) but after Tsukasa twice refuses to tell about Macha you see what a difference their relative strength makes.

Tsukasa and Sliver Knight are locked sword against staff and Silver Knight simply pushes. Tsukasa is too weak to stand against that and soon finds himself slammed up against a wall. Then he falls to the ground in pain and has difficulty forcing himself to move. This is, I have to say, what I imagine happening to me if I ever find myself in an action story kind of situation.

Push, bang: wall, thud: ground, ow: pain.

Sliver Knight doesn't know Tsukasa can feel pain or be incapacitated by being smashed into a wall, or anything like that. He orders Tsukasa to get up and charges when Tsukasa fails to comply.

Tsukasa is rescued by a sort of gelatinous amorphous blob which knocks Silver Knight off his feet and then quickly forms itself into a sort of barbell shape with a large metal ring at the center of the bar.

The Sliver Knight doesn't recognize this monster and that's significant. There is only one character in the whole of the show that we explicitly know read the manual and Silver Knight is that character. He is familiar with the monsters in the game and this is not amoung them. This is not supposed to be there and he's taken completely off guard. Even so, he gets up and prepares to fight and when the monster attacks by firing a sharp line of what I suppose is the goo it's made up of given pointy linear form, he tries to block with his sword.

That utterly fails to work as the line shoots right through his sword and right through him.

He's lifted off the ground and, while he shouts in apparent pain, light and numbers appear in the air around him. This is another thing that shouldn't be in the game. The game is in a sword and monster world. There's no place for floating ones and zeros. If not for the fact that he's busy being attacked, he'd probably notice this as another sign that something isn't as it should be.

The character dies, which is marked by the character turning gray, and falls to the ground.

The monster, which we'll later learn is called the Guardian (spoken in English whether listening in English or Japanese) comes over to Tsukasa who is appropriately terrified of it. From one of the spheres that make it up it forms a sort of snout with which to sniff him and delver an pretty unique sounding call, before evaporating into nothing.

Tsukasa realizes that this probably is related to the promise that he'd be protected.

Then he goes off to Venice (Mac Anu) to think things over. It's night. He's accepted the fact that he's in the game. He isn't going to dwell on the fact that he can't log out. He isn't going to think about the fact that he doesn't want to. He's going to accept that he's in The Word instead of the real world.

After all, then I don't have to return to that ludicrous world.

Given what Tsukasa has to return to on the outside, I would have accepted “craptastic” as an entirely appropriate choice of adjective.

Anyway, the beetle which has periodically shown up when Tsukasa was being contemplative returns, and Tuskasa stands up. He concludes it's not so bad and brings his staff down right on top of the beetle. I don't think he was necessarily trying to do that, he wasn't actually shown looking down at it at the time. I'm sure that one could find symbolic importance for the beetle, it seems to cry out for that, but I'm just going to go on to the next scene.

You don't actually see the staff hit the beetle, instead the scene immediately cuts with a dramatic tone to red flashing lights and a siren, first outside, then inside with the light coming through a door. This is your first glimpse of the real world and you see a teenage girl unconscious on the floor. Her headset for the game on the ground near her head.

The show will take a long time to tell you for sure who this person is, I've decided to go the spoiler route so I'm just going to come out and say it's Tsukasa. The first two shots of her (first her hand, then her face) are exactly the same as the first two shots of Tsukasa at the beginning of the show. The cut indicates we're probably looking at Tsukasa.

The very next episode will cast doubt on that by letting us know that Silver Knight was found unconscious in front of his computer after the Guardian got him. (He got better.) That brings up the possibility the girl was him. When someone looking for Tsukasa tracks down the girl, Tsukasa is asked, “Are you a girl in the real world?” and answers no. Since he wasn't lying it's assumed the lead was a dead end and the search for the real Tsukasa is back to square one.

It will be a while longer still before they conclude that the girl is in fact Tsukasa, and longer still before Tsukasa realizes that in the real world he is a she.

I've put a lot of thought into pronouns as a result of this. The game character Tsukasa is male, and Tsukasa (character and person) thinks he's male in the real world for most of the show, so I'm going to stick with male pronouns.

I don't get the impression that Tsukasa has a strong gender identity. When the revelation comes the concern doesn't seem to be about gender at all. It's about how that might change relationships and the fact that it means memories were false. Tsukasa seems to be content to be whatever gender his body happens resemble.

This obviously also has some effects on how one interprets the series. For example, if Tsukasa is considered female then the series passes the Bechdel test almost constantly, if Tsukasa is male then it still passes, but far less often. Even conversations he's not a part of tend to be about him as the series is very much his story. Given his male character model, the fact he thinks he's male most of the series, and the fact that his lack of any strong gender identity means he isn't strongly identifying as female, I'm personally going to be considering him male except when otherwise noted.


Now that we've gotten through the introduction I think I'll have significantly more interesting things to say in the future.  That said, this one episode took me two weeks, so this is going very slowly.  I've already written out a post for something that happens in episode 14, at this rate we should start episode 14 in the week starting July 29th.  I'm not sure if I should post out of order things when I do them, or wait until they actually come up.


* She actually has a name, but that name is never uttered in the main series and only mentioned in passing in the bonus coda episode. I've decided not to use it because the name caries with it a lot of connotations that really don't come up in the series given that in the series she never has a name. Thus she will remain DVL. If you're really interested in what her name is (rot13ing for no good reason whatsoever) it's Zbetnan and if you can use that name post in, post out over and over and over again without ending up with very strong connotation of Neguhevna legend then you're probably better at keeping things in your head separate than I think I would be.



  1. On DVL's "real" name -- It's been a while, so I'd forgotten what the Cat Player Character's name was. Put its name, Macha, together with the rest of the ambient Celtica of the series (e.g. the place name Mac Anu, Bear's Pictish blue body paint), and DVL's name actually makes me think of the Triple Goddess of War, rather than of [the stories you mentioned]. Macha and [something very close to DVL's name] are two of the three of Her persona; does a Bodbh ever show up? In any case, if the writers did that on purpose, it's a very interesting interpretation of Celtic mythology.

  2. They don't even know whether the cat is male or female. (Everything I read says female

    Huh. Definitely not how I read him.

    Silver Knight was found unconscious in front of his computer after the Guardian got him.

    At first I'd forgotten it was called the Guardian. Because of this bit, for a while I mentally referred to it as "the transdimensional hellbeast".

    at this rate we should start episode 14 in the week starting July 29th

    Is it mean of me to be cracking up right now?

    1. Is it mean of me to be cracking up right now?

      For you, no. For a hypothetical random person I have no history with, maybe.

  3. Given what Tsukasa has to return to on the outside, I would have accepted “craptastic” as an entirely appropriate choice of adjective.

    "Ludicrous" is not an accurate translation from the original Japanese. "Craptastic" would actually be closer, and "shitty" is near-literal.

    1. Thank you. Not knowing Japanese, all I have to go on is the subtitles and the dub, I definitely appreciate getting another (better) perspective.

  4. Did you choose DVL because you could say it out loud as "Devil"?

    1. As I recall, when I didn't call it "Disembodied Voice Lady" in full, I pronounced it as Dee-Vee-El, and therefore never noticed that.

      Now that you've pointed it out, I'm tickled that I named her "Devil" without realizing it.

      Thanks for all of your comments, by the way. It means a lot to know that someone's reading. I've been feeling both useless and worthless of late, so seeing someone enjoying my work is very helpful.